We reviewed all the OSHA accident reports for tower crane accidents dating all the way back to 1984. What we learned from this review is that tower crane accidents are rare and that anything can go wrong when a tower crane is on a job site.
Given the height that is involved and the momentum when something falls from the crane, tower crane accidents have a high likelihood of being fatal.
It is hard to miss a tower crane on a jobsite. There are the massive cranes that are hundreds of feet high. When you are in a city with a lot of construction, it seems as if there is an entire city skyline featuring these cranes.
When you see a tower crane, it is fully evident how it can be dangerous for both the operator and anyone in the vicinity. There are tower cranes that are smaller than the giant iron structures, but they also involve height and are similarly hazardous.
Tower cranes are used for hoisting and transporting materials at a jobsite. They are especially useful when the contractor is building a tall structure. The tower cranes will hoist the iron and the materials necessary to build the upper floors.
The construction company may need to move other heavy materials around. However, there are numerous dangers involved when tower cranes are in operation. Accidents are rare, but they will generally cause serious injury when they happen.
In some cases, these accidents are a result of a defective tower crane. When this happens, the injured worker or their family can file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer. There is also a possibility of a lawsuit against the employer if they were grossly negligent. Outside of that, the injured worker or their family will need to file a workers’ compensation claim.
The Dangers of Tower Cranes and This Type of Equipment
Some of the dangerous aspects of tower crane operation include:
- Disassembly operations
- Failure to follow manufacturer’s instructions
- The use of wire rope
- Operation near power lines
- Hoisting and use of the boom hoist and hoist drum
- Tower Crane Accident Statistics
In all, there have been 59 workplace accidents involving these cranes reported to OSHA in the past three and a half decades. Surprisingly, not all of these accidents have been fatal. 32 of these 59 accidents involved fatalities. This is because of the wide variety of accident causes. Not every accident involves the crane itself or something falling from the care.
There is an average of 1.5 tower crane accidents per year. However, over the past three years, the rate of accidents has increased slightly. From 2017-2019, there have been a total of ten tower crane accident reports.
OSHA Tower Crane Rules for Worker Safety
OSHA has a multitude of rules that apply to tower cranes in order to safeguard employees on the site. The OSHA regulations about tower cranes are found in 29 CFR 1926.1435.
All employer procedures must be followed as well as the general requirements. Here are some of the rules with which employers are expected to comply to ensure their workers’ safety:
- Employees must not be under the tower during erecting or dismantling of the crane 29 CFR 1926.1435(b)(2).
- The crane operator should not operate the crane during wind speed greater than those specified by the manufacturer. 29 CFR 1926.1435(b)(4)(iii)
- On jobsites where more than one fixed jib (hammerhead) tower crane is installed, the cranes must be located such that no crane can come in contact with the structure of another crane. 29 CFR 1926.1435(b)(6).
- In assembly/disassembly, the maximum counterweight and/or ballast specified by the manufacturer or registered professional engineer familiar with the equipment must not be exceeded. 29 CFR 1926.1435(b)(8)(ii).
- Employees must use all necessary safety devices, and tower cranes must be operated by a competent person.
- The tower crane must be kept in the proper condition and tower crane foundations must be inspected.
- You can find a complete list of OSHA rules affecting the operation of tower cranes here.
Causes of Tower Crane Accidents
Here are some of the common causes of tower crane accidents reported to OSHA:
- The tower crane may overturn or collapse. This poses a danger not just to the operator of the crane, but also to other employees in the area. There are some reports of employees being injured by falling cranes. Other accidents in this category could include crane tip overs.
- Workers can fall from the crane boom or through the crane hatch. They may also fall from the tower itself.
Tower cranes can injure workers in the area when loads fall from cranes and strike employees. It is virtually impossible for employees to safeguard themselves from falling tower crane loads. This category would also include injuries caused by cargo swinging from a crane.
- Workers can be trapped between the crane mast and the boom.
Examples of OSHA Accident Reports
Here are some of the most recent accident reports made to OSHA:
- An employee was killed when they were struck by rebar falling from a tower crane.
- Two employees were killed when a crane that they were disassembling collapsed and struck a commercial building. Two people in their vehicles in the immediate area were killed too.
- An employee suffered fractures when he fell through a hatch opening.
Boom Lift OSHA Investigations and Fines
- August 2017 – $27,435 fine from Virginia Safety Office. An employee suffered multiple leg fractures when they were pinned in the driver protective structure after it was struck by a grappling hook and tipped over. The employee later died from sepsis.
- January 2015 – $4,950 fine from Calumet City Office. Five employees were working on the erection of a crane tower when one of them became pinned between the climbing unit and the frame of the tower crane. He died of his injuries.
- February 2012 – $23,350 fine from the Los Angeles office. An employee suffered unspecified injuries when two people assembling the boom of a tower crane and skipped steps in the process. When they removed pins from the crane, part of it collapsed and fell on the employee.
It is important to note that tower cranes not only pose a danger to workers on the work site, but they also threaten people in the immediate vicinity. There have been reports in recent years of crane collapses, including one in New York City in 2016 that killed a man that was the result of allegedly negligent operation of the crane.
Thus, not only do tower cranes give rise to workers’ compensation claims, but they can also lead to personal injury lawsuits.